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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Morbid jealousy...

... is a "mental disorder," according to some lawyer chappies in Singalore, who have used that tack to argue that their client, a man who hacked his wife to death, be let off because his 'disorder' "diminished his mental responsibility for the killing."

This reminds of an email conversation I had with some friends a few days ago, where Ravikiran Rao shared what I think is a fascinating insight. (I quote with permission, of course.) He wrote:
I am increasingly coming around to the idea that all mental disorders are just extreme cases of perfectly normal and "healthy" emotional states.

I mean, something like depression is an extreme case of sadness - something which we all feel and which is actually helpful, as it enables us to do something about it, and reduce our future expectations if necessary. (But depression is not helpful.)

Paranoia is an extreme case of the normal suspiciousness that we all feel. Delusion is an extreme case of imaginativeness and fantasy - things that are actually helpful.

I think that this applies even to things that look utterly strange to us, like the Stockholm syndrome. I think that the Stockholm syndrome is something completely normal, and to an extent, healthy. It is the normal process by which people get socialised into any group.
Ravi went on to write that this might mean that it becomes difficult to "draw a sharp dividing line between the case where a person is fully responsible for his actions and where he is considered to be not in possession of his faculties." Well, fair enough. But I'd hold that even if what Ravi says holds true, it is, to paraphrase Steven Pinker in "The Blank Slate," valid only as explanation, not as exculpation.

In fact, even if we are to find that some of us are predisposed, either genetically or because of our environment, towards certain behavioural patterns, as long as we have some sense of volition, and are capable of comprehending the consequences of our actions, we must be held responsible for them. The killer in the story I linked to has been convicted, and I agree entirely with the judge. The kind of 'morbid jealousy' he displayed deserves a morbid sentence.

Also read: "Mental disorders are not diseases" by Thomas Szasz. (Hat tip: Naveen Mandava.)
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